By Norris Burkes
Jan 28 2018

Justin is a 12-year-old student at Southwest Bilingual School in the high mountains outside La Esperanza, Honduras. Every weekday, he rides 5 miles on a school bus through twisted and rutted dirt roads.

The only thing that might prevent his journey is when heavy rains make it impossible for the bus to climb the 7 percent grade of cratered road. Maybe it’s this tough terrain that inspired the school mascot to be named the Wildcats.

Fortunately on this day, my daughter Sara is driving, leaving my wife and me to bounce in our seats like popcorn. We are carrying a 100 pounds of books from Chispa Project, a charity founded by Sara, to start children’s libraries. The books comprise the second part of the 1,300 books provided from stateside donations.

Sara parks inside the school compound and we walk to the faculty lounge hoping to recruit help to unload. Inside, we meet Edmundo, a science teacher who’s writing his lesson plans.

He’s grateful to see us because Spanish books are rare and costly to purchase in-country. Most children grow up without a culture of reading in the home.

“As a kid, I was bored with reading,″ Edmundo says. “We had only reference books and I’d fall asleep reading them. The books you bring will inspire our students to read.”

“Muchas Gracias,” he adds.

“De nada” I say. Literally translated, “It’s nothing,” an informal expression for “You’re welcome.”

The vice principal, Corita Warner, enters the lounge, a tall, take-charge American. She brings Justin and a gaggle of seventh-graders to help unload.

We make our way to the library where the kids tear open the boxes, nearly inhaling the titles. One girl shrieks when she finds a Harry Potter book, while another begins devouring Moby Dick.

Justin focuses on Steven Covey’s book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” Justin speaks excellent English because he was born in the U.S. but returned to Honduras when he was 7.

He asks if the book will help him succeed. I allow a “maybe,” and then point out Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Angela’s Ashes.” Justin asks if McCourt’s Pulitzer won him a lot of money.

It’s a typical kid question, more so from those without money. Southwest may be a private school, but money remains a concern for the middle-class parents who send their children.

Corita tells me later that the school was founded by three couples who wanted to bring subsidized education to the town. Many kids attend with scholarships and the founders are working toward offering full scholarships to all their students.

I’m not sure why, but their generosity brings moisture to my eyes and memories to my heart.

I recall growing up in a pastor’s home, living on the edge of poverty. Mom made many meals of beans, cornbread and even fried baloney. We did without many things, but no one ever told me that I couldn’t have a good education.

In 1975, I was accepted to Baylor University, a Texas Baptist school. Through the generosity of anonymous benefactors, I took home a BA degree four years later. The generosity continued into seminary where I graduated in 1983 with a tuition-free Master’s degree. These opportunities came from those who thought education was worthy of their contributions.

Their charity recalls Jesus’ words: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” In other words, we must “Pay it Forward.”

A few days later as we load up to leave, several children gather to thank us. My eye moisture returns. All I can manage to say is, “De nada,” because for all that’s been given to me, it’s nothing for me to do this for Justin and his classmates.

Go Wildcats! See more at

Reach Norris Burkes at, 843-608-9715 or @chaplain.